According to “Understanding the American Promise 3e” by James L. Roark, “The rise of a freewheeling economy and a heightened sense of individualism caused Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover to declare that America had entered a “New Era,” one of many labels used to describe the complex 1920s”(648). The 1920s appeared to be a time of prosperity, since the U.S. had just gotten out of World War I. With its high-spirited energy and cultural change, it led to an increase of big business, such as the automobile industry, and consumer spending. However, we saw that the political, social, and economic reality of the 1920s was very different than how it was portrayed to the American people in the form of speech and in the press.
In the beginning of the 1920’s everything seemed to be changing for the better with the war being over and the sense of peace and prosperity, but the political reality of the 1920’s was something nobody had ever seen before. According to the textbook, “Once Woodrow Wilson left the White House, energy flowed away from government activism and civic reform and toward private economic endeavor”(648) which means that America had turned its back on progressive crusades and embraced conservative Republican politics”(674). In the text it states, “Politicians and diplomats stated that business was the heart of American civilization as they promoted its products at home and abroad” (648). When Warren Gamaliel Harding was elected into office in 1920 the political stability of the country started to decline. The unemployment rates hit 20 percent; farmers were going bankrupt, high tariffs were set to protect American businesses; it all went downhill from there. Harding’s polices to boost American enterprise made him very popular until people found out that some of the things that the people he associated with were in fact corrupt to the point of breaking the law and going to jail. One particular acquaintance, his secretary was convicted of accepting bribes for leasing oil reserves on public land. According to the textbook this bribe was known as the Teapot Dome Scandal of 1924, “which was only one example of the rampant corruption that tainted the Harding administration,” (649) which led to political corruption. After Harding died from a heart attack Coolidge took over and continued to promote business and limited government. He declared, “This is a business country, and it wants a business government” (649). Sadly, “what was true of the government’s relationship to business at home was also true abroad,” (649) which meant the government wanted complete control of businesses, at home and abroad.
If you burrow beyond the pollical corruption, you then discover that the social reality of the 1920’s was also much different than what it was portrayed to be. In the textbook it states that with the war being over, “a new ethic of personal freedom allowed many Americans to seek pleasure without guilt in a whirl activity that earned the decade the name ‘Roaring Twenties’” (655). This so called “Roaring Twenties” brought upon prohibition- which had a negative effect on millions and it also brought up flappers, “New Women”, and the “New Negro” each who challenged the traditional boundaries of society. In addition, it also brought upon the vastly expanded mass communication and entertainment such as the radio, movies, music, and sports which meant that Americans had plenty to do-while also creating a national culture. Prohibition was the ban on the manufacture and sale of alcohol, which was supposed to help decrease the crime rate and lift the nation’s morality. However, “prohibition fueled criminal activity, corrupted the police, demoralized the judiciary, and caused ordinary citizens to disrespect the law” (656). On top of the issues that prohibition brought forth, flappers and the ‘new women” who changed the traditional roles of women. An increasing number of women worked and went to college, which defied the older gender norms. Women even started to drink, smoke cigarettes, and wear skimpy dresses and dangly necklaces. “Although only a minority of American women became flappers, all women, even those who remained at home, heard about girls gone wild and felt the great changes of the era. Not only did the 1920’s witnessed the emergence of the ‘New Women” but also of the “New Negro,” which was a group of “African Americans who challenged the caste system that confined dark-skinned Americans to the lowest levels of society confronted whites who insisted that race relations would not change”(659). This emergence became known as the Harlem Renaissance which was built “on the independence and pride displayed by black soldiers during the war, black artists sought to defeat the fresh onslaught of racial discrimination and violence with poems, paintings, and plays” (659). With the prohibition movement, the flappers and “New Women”, and the “New Negro” we can clearly see the true social reality of the 1920’s.
The very last and most devastating reality that had such a negative impact on both the political and social realities was the economic reality. In the beginning of the 1920’s it seemed like the economy was steadily increasing, and business was booming, but the true reality was far from that. According to the textbook, “Signs of economic trouble began to appear at mid-decade. New construction slowed down. Automobile sales faltered. Companies began cutting back production and laying off workers” (667). Not only did this occur but between 1921 and 1928 five thousand banks failed, eliminating the savings of hundreds of thousands. To make matters worse Americans continued to invest in the stock market, even though the economy was faltering. This continued until autumn of 1929 when the stock market lost six-sevenths of its total value and eventually crashed. It was to believe that the crash alone caused the Great Depression, but if you go back you can see that the national and international economies were already riddled with severe problems. After the huge amount of loss in the stock market crash and fear of risking what was left the economic activity came to a quick halt, which shattered the New Era’s confidence in enjoying perpetually expanding prosperity.
With the political struggles of having a business government which led to political corruption, the social changes which were brought upon from Prohibition and the changing of traditional boundaries with the flappers, the “New Women”, and the “New Negro”, and the economic hardship with the stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression which completely devastated the economy, the true reality of the “Roaring Twenties” was nothing like it was set out to be in a political, social, or economic way.